Mumbai Indians are all set to open the defense of their title against new outfit Rising Pune Supergiants, led by India’s World Cup winning skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in Mumbai on Saturday after decks were cleared to hold the opening IPL game by the Bombay High Court.
The court has declined to grant a stay on the IPL’s opening match on Saturday in Maharashtra, many parts of which are facing severe water crisis.
The IPL has temporarily been shorn of two successful teams, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, who have been suspended for two years as per the Lodha Committee recommendations.
The Supergiants, owned by RPSG Group, has thus been granted an opportunity to carve out a niche — guided by the previously successful combine of captain Dhoni and coach Stephen Fleming for CSK.
However, with a more settled look and familiar with the conditions at the Wankhede Stadium, described by both MI captain Rohit Sharma and coach Ricky Ponting on Thursday as the team’s fortress, Supergiants will need to pull out all stops to stop the home side.
The hosts, who turned around a disastrous start last year after losing the opening four games, have the right personnel on paper to diffuse the challenge from RPS.
Lendl Simmons, who orchestrated the bounce-back of MI last season, has shown his penchant for the Wankhede track with a blistering knock for eventual champions West Indies that knocked pre-tournament favourites India out of the World T20 at the semifinal stage on March 31.
Simmons and Sharma, who has decided to open the innings, are expected to pair up at the top with people like Ambati Rayudu, new buy and England’s hard-hitting wicketkeeper batsman Jos Buttler, Corey Anderson, the big-hitting Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya to follow up later.
MI would be hard-pressed to fill in the void left by the absence of the injured pace spearhead Lasith Malinga who is unlikely to be fit at least for the first half of their league campaign, as informed yesterday by Ponting at his media conference.
The vastly improved Jasprit Bumrah will need to step up and give adequate support to the likes of Anderson, Tim Southee, Mitchell McClenaghan and Marchant de Lange.
In spin, MI will bank immensely on their experienced off spinner Harbhajan Singh. The feisty sardar, ignored by the Indian think-tank right through the WT20 campaign although he was part of the 15-strong squad, would be eager to show his mettle against Dhoni and company.
Supergiants, on the other hand, appear to have a strong batting line-up with the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Kevin Pietersen, Steve Smith, Mitchell Marsh and Francois du Plessis present in it, along with Dhoni.
They have a good set of all-rounders such as Albie Morkel and Irfan Pathan and a good mix of pace and spin in the bowling attack which is expected to be led by Ishant Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin respectively.
The mini-battle between off-spin rivals Ashwin and Harbhajan should also liven up the contest.
Australian leggie Adam Zampa is also there to be called upon along with Ashwin’s Tamil Nadu teammate Murugan Ashwin, who is also a wrist spinner, and left arm slow bowler Ankit Sharma of Madhya Pradesh.
The key for the Supergiants will be about how fast and how well they can jell as a team.
Rising Pune Supergiants : M S Dhoni (Capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Kevin Pietersen, Faf du Plessis, Steve Smith, Mitchell Marsh, Jaskaran Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ankit Sharma, Albie Morkel, Irfan Pathan, Ishant Sharma, Ishwar Pandey, Thisara Perera, Saurabh Tiwary, R P Singh, Rajat Bhatia, Ankush Bains, Baba Aparajith, Murugan Ashwin, Ashok Dinda, Deepak Chahar, Scott Boland, Peter Handscomb, Adam Zampa.
Mumbai Indians : Rohit Sharma (Capt), Lendl Simmons, Parthiv Patel, Kieron Pollard, Ambati Rayudu, Hardik Pandya, Harbhajan Singh, Corey Anderson, Mitchell McClenaghan, Jos Buttler, Unmukt Chand, Marchant de Lange, Siddhesh Lad, Jasprit Bumrah, Shreyas Gopal, Tim Southee, Jagadeesha Suchith, R Vinay Kumar, Krunal Pandya, Nathu Singh, Akshay Wakhare, Nitish Rana, Jitesh Sharma, Kishore Kamath, Deepak Punia.
The match commences at 8 PM on Saturday.